European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
Address to Euromed Summit of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions
Euromed Summit of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions
Istanbul, 17 November 2011
Mr Chairman, distinguished guests
This Euromed Summit of economic and social councils and similar institutions is a unique opportunity. An opportunity to meet and discuss with the representatives of civil society who are helping shape the present historic developments in a number of countries in North Africa and the Middle East.
The ‘Arab Spring’ is a catch-all expression which does little justice to very different situations. But there are common elements across the region; let me mention just a few.
We have seen unprecedented expressions of popular will.
We have seen demands for respect of fundamental freedoms, civil and human rights, and dignity. Above all people are demonstrating and risking their lives for genuine, deep democracy.
We have seen demands for a decent standard of living and a better life for this generation and the generations to come.
The “Arab Spring” is historic opportunity for deep democracy and inclusive economic development in Arab world. The EU has a vital interest in seeing successful transitions and supporting those countries whose leaderships seem genuinely committed to reform.
As a result we in the European Union have been forced to take a very fresh look at our policies and their relevance at this historic moment.
We have done so through two very important communications issued in March (“Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity”) and May (European Neighbourhood Policy Review: ''A new response to a changing Neighbourhood''). In these we pledged to focus more our core values, the universal values which underpin the EU and which so many in the region are demanding. The European Union now has an opportunity to build a wider constituency to support promote and defend these values.
We also committed to focus more on a broad partnership with societies, and not only on relations with governments.
My presence here today is a symbol of our commitment. A commitment to engage with civil society, to engage with the business community and to engage with trade unions. Not talk for the sake of talking, but to better involve you in all Euromed political dialogue and policy making. The historical challenges in front of us require the full mobilization of ideas from all stakeholders. They also require that the European Union institutions continuously listen to the voices of peoples from the region. And not just listen but act by adapting our policies to make sure that they are relevant and efficient.
One of the lessons from events this year is that people in the region want decent jobs, economic opportunities and social justice. Popular expectations and the electoral calendars will put enormous pressures on policy makers. It will be an enormous challenge to create more jobs, improve social justice and strengthen the basis for competitiveness all at the same time.
Social dialogue is part of the answer to this dilemma. The role of the private sector and trade unions in responding to the enormous jobs challenge facing the region will be crucial.
From my own experience, I am conscious and aware of the importance of a serious, substantial and regular tripartite social dialogue. I am also aware it is not always easy to achieve.
Such a dialogue can easily turn into window-dressing. This can have serious consequences. First on the ability to engage in real inclusive reforms and growth. Second on the democratic process itself.
We have therefore to invest time and resources to ensure the fairness and real impact of the dialogue. I am personally convinced that the reality of the future democratic nature of south-Mediterranean societies also depends on that.
For the dialogue to function, freedom to express a position is vital as is the representativeness of the organizations. Each side brings its own valuable experience and perspective. The strength of the dialogue is in bringing these together to help shape policies and decisions which in turn will shape the future of your countries.
This is one reason I do appreciate the importance of the work done by economic and social councils and similar institutions.
It is also why we insisted on the necessary consultation and involvement of ALL stakeholders, both in our last two communications, and more generally in the framework of the new approach of the European Neighbourhood Policy.
This will only happen if we are all committed to the dialogue. I appeal to you, social partners, to actively contribute to this process. Take us to the words. Get practical, be involved and make concrete proposals.
As for us, we have already acted to support such an enhanced and more effective involvement of civil society through concrete actions.
For example, the Commission, through the so called Tresmed regional project (with funding of € 1 500 000 from the Commission) has acted to enhance the consultative role of economic and social partners and their contribution to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.
But we have new instruments and these will complement our existing programmes.
One element in particular is the Civil Society Facility for which we have already committed 22 million euro in 2011 and similar amounts for the next two years. Its objective is to reinforce and associate civil society, and improve the capacity of civil society organisations to interact with governments and the EU.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Civil society development is important but is one element among many.
More generally, the European Union has offered a triple response (Money, Market, and Mobility) to the momentous events. We will support partners in their renewed efforts as they ask for it offering more for more.
The seriousness of our commitment is seen in the figures: The European Union will allocate up to EUR 1.2 billion in grant money to support the new approach in 2011-2013. We already refocused countries annual action plans on the new priorities (€ 600 M).
Additional funds allocated for 2011/2012 through the so-called “SPRING” package amount to € 350 Millions (SPRING stands for Support for Partnership, Reform and Inclusive Growth). There has been a major expansion of youth scholarships and exchanges, offering opportunities to the young which have been denied to them for too long.
We have offered dialogue on mobility, migration and security to Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, with a view to conclude 'Mobility partnerships'. I am glad to report that discussions have already started with Morocco and Tunisia.
And finally, we have proposed to conclude deep and comprehensive free trade areas with Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan. This will complement our existing trade negotiations, and will facilitate the progressive economic integration of these partners in the EU's single market. This process will be based on the progressive alignment to key EU legislation and regulations in trade-related areas.
I would conclude with one clear message. A message based on the lessons we have learnt. The message is that our partnership should be with and between societies, not only with governments.
Throughout the region dialogue and reforms are the best guarantee for lasting stability and prosperity.
In some countries we have witnessed a revolution, largely peaceful and filled with dignity. In others, we will witness an evolution.
Yet, without respect for these and new forms of meaningful participation, people in countries across the region will continue to ask for change. They will not be stopped by tanks and military planes. That is a historical lesson which has to be learnt and learnt fast. Countries must heed the rights and aspirations of their people, and the EU stands ready to support them.
One key element in this respect is the force of social partners. Your role is vital in this process and we will support you in carrying it out.
Thank you for your attention.